The National Centre for Contemporary Arts (NCCA)
The Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA)
With the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation
Within the Collateral Programme of Venice Biennale.
Date: June 4 – November 5
Venue: Arsenale Novissimo, Venice, Italy
Opening: June 3, 7 pm
«If somebody says, ’I love you,’ to me, I feel as though I had a pistol pointed at my head»
The romantic gesture sags with the weight of convention; it is framed as an exchange of gifts and stock phrases. Social conditions reduce love to a marriage of convenience allowing aging bodies to temporarily forget about the imminence of death. Physical and emotional intimacy are tools for dispelling the loneliness that would otherwise open a space for the contemplation of nonexistence.
But take away the tacky conventions and bland comforts of romance, and love is not a distraction from existential crisis-it is a crisis, a sensation of the present so powerful it brings about a confrontation with the void. Unconditional love suffocates and seizes, subdues and annexes. It has the immediacy of both an orgasm and a pistol to the head.
«Unconditional Love» presents a spectrum of artistic approaches to defining the essence of unbridled love. Curators Alexandrina Markvo, Alinda Sbragia, and Christina Steinbrecher have chosen artists from different countries and generations to trigger a spontaneous and surprising dialogue between artworks. All three are experienced in fostering the exchanges of art and ideas across cultural boundaries. Markvo organized Sir Norman Foster’s retrospective in Moscow and Russian Act, a major festival of Russian art in London. Sbragia has taken part in projects to show Russian art in Italy and Italian art in Russia, while Steinbrecher, born in Germany, has worked at venues from the Palais de Tokyo in Paris to galleries in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
(Tatyana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, Evgeny Svyatsky, Vladimir Fridkes)
(Russian, live in Moscow)
«Unconditional Love» will feature the premiere of The Feast of Trimalchio, a new video project by the Moscow-based collective AES+F. The work updates and abstracts the story of the Roman plutocrat Trimalchio from Petronius’ Satyricon, transposing the orgies of masters and servants to the setting of a modern-day luxury hotel. The Asian maids perform services for their white male clients, and then the clients return them the favours. The loop of reciprocity suggests the frozen temporality of glamour, where only the present moment of youth, beauty, and hedonistic pleasure is valid. The Feast of Trimalchio caresses the contours of ephemeral passion, and in doing so it throws into relief the profundity of unconditional love.
(Serbian, b. 1946, lives in New York)
Serbian artist Marina Abramovic is the grandmother of performance art. Her classic Rest Energy, 1980, documents a performance in which Abramovic’s partner Ulay draws an arrow in a tense bow, aiming directly at her heart. With a single stroke, the scenario merges the ultimate trust of love with the threat of impending death. In a more recent work, the photographic series Virgin Warrior with Hearts, 2006, made in collaboration with Jan Fabre, Abramovic obscures her body in full armour as she bears forth bloody, scarlet hearts as battle trophies, violently reinvigorating the cliché of the organ’s role in the sensation of love.
(British, b. 1977, lives in London)
Sam Adams is a young British artist whose mixed media abstractions have been noted for their vibrant, irregular geometries, and austere coloration. For «Unconditional Love» Adams has produced three interactive Love Chairs, which make viewers part of the exhibition. When they sit in the chairs, they are not aware that everyone in the gallery can hear what they are saying. While it has the potential to reveal strangers’ intimate thoughts, Adams’ work is not intrusive or a prank played on the viewer. Rather, it is an expression of his belief that the visitor is a natural part of the exhibition environment.
The collective Artists Anonymous works in painting, photography, video, installation, and performance, all while playing with the boundaries between those mediums. They paint the «after image,» meticulously creating pairs of photorealistic paintings that look like a snapshot and its negative print. how to persuade love to stay and the according negatives have personal origins, but viewers can recognize themselves in the image’s common banality.
(Italian, b. 1954, lives in Rome)
After studying architecture, Angelo Bucarelli worked in various fields, including photography and film. He was an assistant to Fellini and Claude Lelouch, and also received the Olbia Award in 1974 for best Italian documentary. He is an artist, critic, and curator whose text-based sculptures involve clever, thought-provoking wordplay. «Unconditional Love» features a new iron piece by Bucarelli. Unpolished and dense, its physical presence conveys the weight of unbridled love.
(Russian, b. 1968, lives in Moscow)
Trained as an engineer, Aristarkh Chernyshev fell into the world of artists’ squats in Moscow during perestroika and continues to make art projects that connect his fluency in technology with conceptual ideas. For «Unconditional Love» Chernyshev plans to construct computerized, mechanical lava lamps, exaggerations of the idea of the decorative object that incorporate pornography in their moving images.
(Belgian, b. 1965, lives in Ghent)
Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has exhibited at prestigious forums around the world. His works toe the border between art and other areas of contemporary visual culture, and always involve sensory pleasures and intricate surfaces. Delvoye’s virally popular X-ray series makes vivid use of contradictory elements, as radiology (a measure of prevention) and the skeleton as memento mori function in tandem. On top of that, the work also celebrates life through a depiction of sexual pleasure, though the excitement of contact is ironically mediated by a medical device.
(Russian, b. 1978, lives in Saint Petersburg)
The young Russian painter Dasha Fursey works with portraiture and its attendant codes of femininity. Her Ave Maria updates the iconography of the Virgin Mary. A pregnant woman looks directly and confidently at the viewer; she is painted with richly textured, thick brushstrokes that emphasize the fleshiness of her skin and the fullness of her belly. The figure is earthy, yet the gold in the background hints at iconographic conventions of depicting the metaphysical and spiritual.
(Greek, b. 1964, lives in London)
Greek artist Miltos Manetas is best known for his conceptual web sites that use clever animations to pay playful homage to great artists. He also paints pieces of computer hardware and peripheral equipment, depicting the cold metal and synthetic materials as soft, nuanced figures, and makes small parts monumental by painting them on large canvases. In Manetas’ execution, an ordinary plug takes on a melancholy loneliness-a male extension pining for the female.
(Kazakh, b. 1969, lives and works in Germany, Kazakhstan)
Like many Central Asian artists of her generation, Almagul Menlibayeva is interested in the efforts to establish a post-Soviet national identity in her homeland, which usually involve a braiding of Islamic and pagan traditions with market-friendly global culture. The imagery of Menlibayeva’s works both echoes dominant culture and critiques it. Her video Exodus transports the viewer to present-day Kazakhstan, where a strange and powerful tale unravels. As men and women pack up their yurts with the clear intent to move on, a young girl watches, captivated and immobile. She seems to be left behind. Her image invokes the experience of geographic uprooting in a global world. In an interlude that offers another take on immobility, two women become birdlike creatures as the hair on their violently thrashing heads begins to look like wings.
(Italian, b. Naples, lives in New York)
Angelo Musco’s latest work, Hadal, takes its name from the geological term for the deepest part of the ocean. A mobile nest of hundreds of nude, silvery human bodies swirls in a cloudy darkness evocative of the deep sea. The grouping of lithe male and female figures is erotic, while the dynamism and the lack of individual features makes the scene look like a swarm of sperm cells, suggesting the vulnerability and mystery of life’s beginnings.
(Egyptian, b. 1972, lives in New York)
The ironic self-portraiture of the young photographer Youssef Nabil offers a dry and instructive counterpoint to the more intense expressions of emotion in «Unconditional Love.» The first panel in Youssef Nabil’s two-part self-portrait My time to go¸ 2007, shows the artist alone, asleep in bed beneath a framed poster of two cherubs in reverie. In the next panel, the unmade bed lies empty, creating a contrast between the dynamic body that has left the room and the static language of popular romance embodied by the poster.
(Russian, b. 1968, lives in Rome)
The daughter of an orthodox priest, Velena Nikova started her career in 1987, when she received a prize as the best young designer in the Soviet Union. After her first group exhibition in Moscow’s Central Exhibition Hall in 1990, she performed with Valery Cherkashin in Silver. Underground Erotic, a conceptual art exhibition in a metro station in central Moscow. Today her silk-screens are preserved in many museum collections. The new series of prints of canvas show the traces of bodies partially obscured by bursts of light, which makes it impossible to tell whether the arms of her phantom figures are thrown up in self-defence or tangled in an embrace.
(Catalan, b. 1955, lives in Barcelona)
An internationally renowned sculptor, Jaume Plensa has installed public artworks in Chicago, Stockholm, and other major cities. His works exude a contemplative spirit and a sensitivity for their environment. «Unconditional Love» will include his installation Gluck Auf, where diaphanous curtains contain the complete text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, broken down into letters and rearranged in fragments. Plensa’s gibberish remix of the statement communicates the distance between the ideal of human rights and the failure to meet them in many societies. It makes a neat parallel for the gap between the feeling of love-that most basic freedom-and the weakness of our verbal expressions for it.
(Swiss, b. 1983, lives in London)
Olympia Scarry will present a new piece for the show called Polythene.
Scarry’s work is about vulnerability, inner chaos and her attempt to solve her compulsive interpersonal relations. For the show Unconditional Love she presents an installation made out of the material which recalls the title (polythene) that highlights this state of defense towards the exterior world. Because of its outstanding toughness and its cut, wear and excellent chemical resistance, is used in a wide diversity of applications. These include can and bottle handling, moving parts on weaving machines, artificial joints, edge protection on ice rinks and butchers’ chopping boards. It competes with Aramid in bulletproof vests, and is commonly used for the construction of articular portions of implants used for hip and knee replacements. Olympia Scarry chose this material for all these reasons.
(Russian, b. 1965, lives in Moscow)
Olga Soldatova is Moscow-based artist and designer who applies the medieval Russian tradition of embroidery with beads to nostalgic Soviet themes, a technique that, paradoxically, yields works with a contemporary, sensual flair. Inspired by Pop art’s placement of the artist in the role of a machine, and making a self-deprecating joke about her own «commercial» work as a designer. The Art Machine sells precious petit art works oozed with sticky romance. It plays upon the commercialization of take-away, pocket size memories that can be bought at tourist shops.
(Russian, b. 1959, lives in Moscow and Cologne)
Vadim Zakharov makes wry, cerebral, conceptual works that reflect his coming of age in Moscow’s underground art scene of the early 1980s. His sculpture Execution of Love was inspired by both an antique chair for punishing children he came across in a provincial German museum and the old Chinese practice of torture that seats a criminal over live bamboo shoots so that they will grow into his body. Here the seat perches above a live rose, turning an overused symbol of romance into an instrument of torture.
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